Alabama may not be the power program it usually is, but the No. 11 Crimson Tide still have plenty to play for this season.
Alabama (6-1, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) takes aim at its sixth consecutive victory when it battles No. 17 Tennessee on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Crimson Tide lead the SEC West by a half-game over No. 19 LSU (4-1 SEC). A victory over the Volunteers (5-1, 2-1) would assure Alabama of being in the division lead when it hosts the Tigers on Nov. 4.
The winner of that contest likely will be the West representative in the SEC title game on Dec. 2.
Of course, the Crimson Tide are still seeking the form they have shown in previous seasons. The latest example of Alabama staggering through a game came last weekend in a 24-21 home win over Arkansas, a squad that dropped to 0-4 in SEC play.
“We should be dominating games rather than just winning games, and there’s a difference,” Crimson Tide guard Tyler Booker said.
The victory was Nick Saban’s 200th as Alabama’s coach but certainly not one of the most memorable.
“Hopefully we can learn how to beat the other team, not just win the game but beat the other team,” Saban said.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe connected on a season-low 47.6 percent of his passes but did have 238 yards on just 10 completions. The big throw was a 79-yard touchdown to Kobe Prentice.
Milroe accounted for three TDs (two passing, one rushing). He has thrown for 1,397 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions while tacking on a team-high five rushing scores.
Linebacker Dallas Turner has seven sacks to lead the Alabama defense, which allows 16 points per game.
The Crimson Tide will look to avenge last season’s 52-49 road loss to Tennessee. Chase McGrath booted a 40-yard field goal as time expired, allowing the Volunteers to snap a 15-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide.
Tennessee had a big-time star quarterback, Hendon Hooker, leading the way in that game. Current quarterback Joe Milton III is nowhere near as lethal, even though the Volunteers own a three-game winning streak.
Milton passed for a season-low 100 yards as Tennessee beat Texas A&M 20-13 last weekend for its 13th consecutive home victory. He has thrown for 1,264 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“There’s a few things fundamentally that Joe did that caused a couple of passes to be a little bit off target,” Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said of Milton’s 11-of-22 performance. “Joe has been really mature in how he has prepared. We’ve got to be a little bit better in the pass game. That’s him, that’s the wideouts, that’s everybody.”
The big play in the victory over the Aggies was a 39-yard punt return for touchdown by Dee Williams, his second career punt-return score.
Volunteers running back Jaylen Wright also stood out with a season-high 136 rushing yards. Wright, who has 571 yards on the ground, has topped the century mark four times this season.
Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren said the Crimson Tide game might be won in the trenches.
“Alabama has an extremely good defensive front,” Warren said. “As long as we are able to control the line of scrimmage and we’re able to move the ball, whether it is through the air or on the ground, that’s really the end goal — to be able to move the ball down the field and put the ball in the end zone.”
The Volunteers have dropped nine straight games in Tuscaloosa. The last victory was the memorable 51-43, five-overtime game on Oct. 25, 2003.